Moving towards the

IS Lite – a lean, focused and high-value-adding IS organization – was first proposed by Gartner EXP about four years ago. It promised greater IS agility and cost efficiency. What’s happened in those four years, and what can we learn from the early movers?

We recently conducted a survey of our members to see how IS organizations are meeting the challenges of implementing an IS Lite-organization. The results were intriguing.

First some history. In 1999, IS Lite encapsulated four trends: process-based working, outsourcing, specialization in centres of excellence, and application development embedded in the business.

What we found from our research was that the foremost benefit of IS Lite is not cost savings, as we expected, but higher customer satisfaction, followed closely by improved IS service levels, better alignment with the business, access to expertise and increased IS flexibility.

What is the extent of restructuring around IS Lite? IS Lite is being implemented, but unevenly.

Of the four trends, process-based working is the most widely adopted, followed closely by outsourcing and then centres of excellence.

Process-based working means organizing people, operations and technology around end-to-end workflows – in the business or IS – rather than around functions, platforms or skill sets. For example, order fulfillment might have separate functions for order entry, inventory control, shipping, billing, customer service and claims processing.

In an IS Lite organization a single team manages the entire process – from taking the initial order to resolving warranty and billing issues. The result: the entire process appears seamless to the customer.

Moving application development to business units is a different story. It hasn’t happened in many enterprises so far. Why? The most recent worldwide economic downturn caused tremendous pressures to reduce IT costs. Centralization was the fastest way to get control of IT costs, and eliminate redundancies. This centralization has spurred process-based working and outsourcing, while blunting the migration of application development.

What goes wrong when adopting IS Lite? Two main impediments to implementing an IS Lite organization come, not surprisingly, from within IS. IS Lite requires change – major change – and change is enthusiastically resisted.

In IS Lite, there is relatively less emphasis on technical (know-how) competencies than in traditional IS, and more emphasis on business (know-what) and behavioral (know-why) competencies.

Many current IS staff lack the competencies to make the new roles a reality. And while technical competencies can be acquired by straightforward training, business and behavioral competencies are relatively difficult to acquire.

The five retained roles in IS Lite include: IT leadership; architecture development; business enhancement which involves business process analysis, project management and business relationship management; technology advancement; and vendor management.

IS resistance, the second major challenge, is due mainly to staff concerns over outsourcing and changing work practices. We also found that the uneven uptake of IS Lite is probably due to the time it takes to shift from functions to processes or implement an enterprisewide sourcing strategy. Both can take years.

Further steps along the way

Other steps involve analyzing your business drivers to determine IS Lite priorities, strengthening your IT leadership team’s skills, centralizing the architecture development role to coordinate internal and external architectural direction, using the business enhancement role to encourage process-based working throughout the enterprise, using the technology advancement role to develop knowledge-sharing centres of excellence, centralizing and expanding the scope of the vendor management role, consolidating the roles in a Lite organization and demonstrating business value by running IS like a business.

I suggest you take a close look at which roles will remain in your organization and which are likely to become obsolete, so you can well position yourself and your IS organization for the future.

Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.